Monday, October 05, 2009

What a difference a day makes

The 2009 Terrapin football team proved it could win ugly against Clemson just as they had established that they could lose ugly against Middle Tennessee State and Rutgers. If this team doesn't turn the ball over they have a chance to beat a roughly equivalent squad and with only one vastly superior opponent remaining on the schedule (Virginia Tech) there is a slim chance that this team could do the unthinkable and qualify for a bowl game. I'm not suggesting this group is likely to beat teams like Wake Forest, N.C. State and Boston College, at least a few of which they would need to defeat to get to six wins, but they could make things interesting going into the final two games against Florida State and Boston College. That will be even more difficult with running back Da'Rel Scott likely out for the season with a broken wrist, though there is talk Scott could return before the end of the season I wouldn't hold your breath on that one, and the possibility of LT Bruce Campbell being done for the season with a injured knee. Campbell will know today whether his season is over or not.

The win over Clemson certainly had suspense but it was hardly a well played game on either side. The Maryland defense is getting better every week just as I thought they would improve after the early stumbles. The group is gaining confidence and younger players like LB Demetrius Hartsfield, who ended the game with a sack and forced fumble, are really starting to blossom. Cameron Chism is showing some great things at corner. He is the total package as a cover man and in run support. Kenny Tate is laboring under some unrealistic expectations based off the hype he was given by the coaching staff but he is also making some plays and had a great blitz and sack. The Clemson offense is pretty woeful but they do have some talented players like C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford so the impressive defensive effort isn't a facade.

Perhaps the best sign to me is that FS Terrell Skinner had his best game of the season. He looked like the Skinner of early last season with some great aggressive play near the line of scrimmage and sure handed tackling. If Skinner can keep his focus and play like that the rest of the year this Maryland defense will be hard to score against. Jamari McCollough had a quiet game with only one tackle but showed his knack for grabbing interceptions at crucial times when he picked off Clemson's Kyle Parker before halftime in the end zone.

The offense on the other hand is a mess. With Scott out fans got a glimpse of Maryland's running game against a quality Clemson defense and it wasn't pretty. Davin Meggett is a fine back if he has a good run blocking offensive line in front of him but he is probably not going to produce a reliable running game with the make shift line Maryland has at the moment. Meggett also fumbled at a critical time in the game deep in Maryland territory that could have easily resulted in a loss. Freshman Gary Douglas also got some carries but didn't show much to get excited about either.

Quarterback Chris "Turnover" Turner tried to erase the memory of last week's debacle against Rutgers with an efficient if unspectacular game. He still got a little skittish with the Clemson pass rush and stopped looking down field at times but overall he did just enough to win. With the running game in dire straights I would look for more running plays called for Tuner by James Franklin. Turner isn't much of a runner but in certain situations he might be able to catch the defense off guard. Jamarr Robinson hasn't shown himself to be a reliable running option to Turner even in substitution packages but with Scott potentially gone for the year they may need to turn to him in some form of option attack.

The whole offense did barely enough to win. Turner and the offense looked great in the 2nd quarter but even before Campbell went out the offense was stymied by Clemson's defense in the 2nd half. The Terps went 3/10 on 3rd down in the second half and missed the infamous fourth and short call that Friedgen made late in the fourth quarter. Only Maryland's defense and the ineffective Clemson kicking game saved that decision from being a disaster. It was the kind of call so fabulously wrong and obviously stupid that it leaves you wondering why there wasn't a single sober and sane voice on the coaching staff to argue against such a foolish decision. They had just seen Clemson stuff Maryland on a third and short and stop the same running game on two downs inside the Clemson two yard line yet they got swept up in the emotion of the moment and made a call based more on their kumquats and not on their coconut. The only score they managed was when Tony Logan returned a punt to the Clemson one yard line. As an aside I hope Logan's return convinces Friedgen, along with Anthony Wiseman's fumble, to put an end to his ridiculous back and forth at the punt returner spot. One other touchdown to Ronnie Tyler was clearly not a catch but for some reason the wacky officiating that has been a hallmark of recent Clemson versus Maryland games showed up again and they confirmed the call on the field though the video showed the ball hitting the ground.

On the bright side Torrey Smith has conclusively proven that he is for real. He had 64 yards and a touchdown against one of the better defensive backfields in the ACC. While he rolled up yards against Middle Tennessee and Rutgers Clemson was the real test. Smith should be well on his way to All-ACC honors.

Kicker Nick Ferrara actually upgraded the punting game with Travis Baltz out and averaged 43 yards per punt. Ferrara is still struggling with his kickoffs but with him pulling double duty and doing such fine work it seems unfair to focus on that even though it might come back to haunt Maryland later on.

Offensive coordinator James Franklin was probably playing it conservative in the 2nd half, as he probably should have, and I agree with his run heavy philosophy with a shaky offensive line, but he needs to get much more production out of the offense. If he doesn't this win could be a momentary blip in a bad season.

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